The Hatred

I originally wrote this post with the intention of publishing it prior to the anniversary of the January 6 Insurrection. But I found I couldn’t bear to start the year on so sad and awful a note.

A few years back, pre-Pandemic (since that is how we all now date everything in our lives) an acquaintance informed me that we would not fall out over my blog post, “The Benefit of the Doubt”, written concerning his experience with the so-called “Love” booth at an Indy Pride event. As I explained in that earlier essay, it wasn’t entirely clear, from his description, what this “Love” booth was actually all about. I assumed that it promulgated love and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Or perhaps, I thought a bit wildly, the people manning the booth were there just to give hugs, like the great church-wide hugging plague of the 1980s. Still another possibility was that the stall provided information on ways the community might demonstrate love and acceptance to everyone of every race, creed and gender. My friend’s description of the booth left its purpose unclear, but he’d been very upset by the individuals operating the Love booth.

It seemed that, as he’d listened throughout the day to many very liberal, far-left comments by the people manning the stall (which was positioned right next to his own booth), he’d found himself wondering, was still wondering: Had he strolled over to that stall, wearing his MAGA hat, and explained to them his adamant view that then-President Trump was “our greatest President ever”, what would their reaction have been? Would the people manning the Love booth have considered him loveable, or even likeable? Or would they have reacted with anger? He was extremely doubtful, he said, that love would have been their reaction.

My blog post about that situation explored the idea that my friend assumed their response, rather than put his question to the test. He didn’t engage with the people manning the Love booth, providing them a chance to refute his position without rejecting him personally, or to talk through their differences.

So a few weeks after that event, when my blog post on the subject was published, my friend magnanimously explained to me that we would not fall out over my remarks, because: “You weren’t there. You didn’t hear it—the hatred”.

Unfortunately, once again, he made an unwarranted assumption. Because I was hearing it—hearing and reading and seeing the hatred every day. At the time, restrictions to written news commentary had not been established. Every news story could be commented upon; one rarely even needed to register on most news sites to leave a comment. Those comment pages were filled with sadistic, trolling statements; rife with cruelty that the overwhelmed moderators could not screen out. My highly-political and extremely conservative father constantly forwarded e-mails to me that, remarking viciously upon the viewpoints I held, made me cry. And while I personally eschewed social media, friends told me of the brutal statements that were posted to their pages. I’d even once sat, helpless and cringing, while two acquaintances nearly came to blows over their opposing viewpoints.

Hatred, I discovered, was not confined to any one group or any single position. People from both sides and corners of the fence slung insults and violent verbiage at one another. And all of it was escalating.

Trying to establish a middle-of-the-road position for myself, I read the news from multiple sources, both left and right, and was on each part equally horrified. What had happened to compromise, to the art of listening? How had our constitutional right to free speech fallen so far?

Then we held a free, fair and, yes, honest election, and Trump lost the popular vote for the second time, this time losing the electoral vote, as well. He had paved the way for doubt on the part of his followers by claiming the election to be rigged even before it happened. Having genuinely lost, he then totally refused to accept his failure. He did not even pretend to be anything other than that entity so despised throughout my childhood: a sore loser.

And so January 6th happened. Sitting paralyzed with horror, clutching my toddler grandchild within the protective circle of my arms, I sat watching while tears rained down my face. I watched it: the hatred, and the horrific violence fueled by hatred.

Months later, still engaged in attempting to maintain a fair and balanced vision of all that was happening in my country, I sat watching once more as Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham viciously mocked the PTSD suffered by those who had gallantly struggled to defend our Capitol on that ghastly day. Observing her derisive facial expressions, listening to her contemptuous remarks, I experienced it yet one more time: the hatred.

“You weren’t there. You didn’t hear it—the hatred.”

No, my friend, I did not need to be there on that long ago Indy Pride day to hear, to experience, the hatred. I have seen it a hundred, a thousand times, then and since: In banned books. In violent attacks on minority individuals and elected officials and their families. In defamatory comments toward those who hold differing viewpoints. In incitement to violence. In bigotry and racism from and toward people of every color, creed and gender.

I have seen it everywhere, on every face; heard it in every voice: the hatred.

And I despair.

You may read the original essay, “The Benefit of the Doubt”, by scrolling to the archived blog posts, below. It was published on July 31, 2019

The Benefit of the Doubt

Lest I be accused of maligning him, let me state firmly that I don’t think my acquaintance is alone in this sort of behavior; we all—every last living one of us—make assumptions and speak of them as truth. 

A friend who is that rare bird, a married gay Trump supporter, attended the Indy Pride festival as a vendor. The following Monday when our group met for our weekly meditation and discussion, he told us that his own vendor booth was quartered directly alongside a “Love” booth. Now, I wasn’t entirely clear, from his description, what this “Love” booth was about: Learning to love and accept the LGBTQ individual in your family, perhaps? Hugs for those who needed them? Methods for the community to demonstrate love and acceptance? His description was vague, and I was a little unclear on that detail as a result.

The point he was making to us, though, was that he wondered at the time, and was still wondering: Had he strolled over to that booth, wearing his MAGA hat, and explained to them his adamant view that Trump is “our greatest President ever”, would the people manning that booth have considered him loveable? He was extremely doubtful, he said, that love would have been their reaction.

Since this comment was not really in line with our group’s purpose and objectives, I didn’t engage with him on his remarks, but they set me to thinking. And although another group member and I used his question as a springboard to open a valuable discussion about what love itself is, and what constitutes unconditional love, I was still bothered by those original remarks.

It took me some days following his comments to tease out from my subconscious what I found distressing in my fellow group member’s original statement, and when I did so, it had nothing at all to do with my feelings about President Trump.  It was twofold: first, that (although, either through a sense of good taste or perhaps self-preservation), my friend wasn’t actually wearing his MAGA hat at the Pride event, he failed to follow through with his idea and actually speak with the people manning that Love booth: state his views, and give them the opportunity to respond. He assumed their likely response. But was he correct? Would they have rejected him outright? Might some of the participants have done so, but not others? Would they have said (as I have been known to do), “I don’t have to like someone to love them. I don’t have to approve of a person’s views to love the person. I don’t have to agree with someone to acknowledge that they are a child of the Divine.”

The second factor that bothered me was that, having not given these people the opportunity to prove their point, to demonstrate that they were living up to the ideals they promulgated, he then spoke of them to us when they weren’t present to defend themselves; making all of us doubt them and their good intentions.

Now, lest I be accused myself of disparaging my friend, let me point out that I don’t think he is alone in this sort of behavior, either; we all—every last living one of us—do this sort of thing.

And it’s wrong.

When we have doubts regarding the genuine intentions of another, or the likelihood that an individual will follow through on their stated good intentions; when we are cynical of their motives, or hesitant of their integrity, we have not just the choice, but the perhaps the responsibility, to bring our suspicions into the light of their attention, and provide them the opportunity to respond. We have the responsibility to give them the benefit of the doubt, for that demonstrates our own integrity. And should we fail to give people the chance to prove themselves to us, then we really have no right to speak badly of them, especially if they aren’t present to defend themselves.

There are exceptions to this general rule, of course. Public figures, celebrities, well-known speakers and teachers, often promulgate positions to which many of us respond with a disparaging, “Yeah, right, sure”.  We then state our opinions that their stances are, to put it bluntly, a crock. That is sometimes the price of being in the public eye: you have to take the heat of the kitchen.  Being doubted or criticized, unfairly or not, is a requirement of fame.  The question then becomes not so much one of our having stated our views about a public figure’s supposed lack of integrity, but whether, if they later prove themselves, we ourselves have the moral fiber to willingly admit, “I was wrong. They honestly did believe, behave, as they said they would. I’m sorry I doubted them.”

Personally, having swung on the pendulum from being quite naïve to somewhat cynical, I now must admit that I’ve been especially bad about this sort of behavior.  Recognizing it from my friend’s remarks has been a wake-up call to myself. It’s time for me to begin living up to my own standards, and giving others not just the benefit of the doubt, but the opportunity to prove me wrong in my suppositions about their behavior and beliefs.

I’ll always wonder now about how the workers manning that “Love” both might have reacted to my acquaintance, had he followed through on his notion and approached them with his views. I’d like to think that some of them, at least, would have shrugged and said, “Hey, you’re entitled to your opinions. It doesn’t mean that we can’t love you.”

After all, I don’t agree with his beliefs, either, but I still love him.